App-based attendance for MGNREGA is a digital strike on the poor: Congress

This is the Modi government’s digital strike on the poor and a backdoor move to reduce expenditure on the MGNREGS, says Jairam Ramesh

January 04, 2023 08:54 pm | Updated 08:54 pm IST - New Delhi

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh. | Photo Credit: PTI

The mobile application-based attendance system for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Generation Scheme (MGNREGS) workers should be withdrawn and those who have lost wages due to technical errors in the past must be compensated, the Congress said on Wednesday.

This is the Modi government’s digital strike on the poor and a backdoor move to reduce expenditure on the MGNREGS, Congress communication chief and former Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said.

The Hinduhad reported on December 27 the Rural Development Ministry’s order to make capturing attendance through a mobile app universal for all work sites. For a year, the Ministry had run a pilot project for only work sites employing 20 workers or more.

Mr. Ramesh, in a statement, said the move, which was reportedly introduced to increase transparency, will have the exact opposite effect.

“It will introduce new avenues for corruption. Workers will find it harder to get paid. People without expensive smart phones, especially women and those from marginalised communities, will be disempowered,” he said.

The new system requires capturing of geo- and time-stamped photographs of the workers at the begining of the day and in the afternoon when the work is wrapped up.

Mr. Ramesh pointed out that the records would be only on the phone of a mate/supervisor and that there was now way to verify the group photo.

“What is worse, MGNREGA payments are linked to measurement of work done, which is completely absent from the app,” he added. Earlier, physical muster rolls, which required each worker to sign, were available to all.

During the pilot run too, there were widespread complaints of technical errors causing denial of work or not recording attendance which in turn meant denial of wages. “In addition, all mates must now have smartphones to use the app. People without expensive smartphones especially women, Dalits and Advisasis cannot be mates,” Mr. Ramesh observed.

The move would dissuade the workers from relying on the MGNREGS, Mr. Ramesh said. “This is a backdoor move by the Modi government to reduce expenditure on MGNREGA. As it is, payments worth ₹8,450 crores are delayed this financial year, including to the entire State of West Bengal. It also ties with the move to halve food grains to beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act. MGNREGA and NFSA have been lifelines of the poor through the Modi government’s mismanagement of COVID and the economy,” Mr. Ramesh said.

The “twin assault” on these schemes, Mr. Ramesh said, clearly showed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s insensitivity to the poorest and most vulnerable Indians.

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